London in 1903
|Born||John Griffith Chaney
January 12, 1876
San Francisco, California, US
|Died||November 22, 1916
Glen Ellen, California, US
|Occupation||Novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist|
|Literary movement||Realism and Naturalism|
John Griffith "Jack" London (born John Griffith Chaney, January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916) was an American author, journalist, and social activist. He was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction and was one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone. He is best remembered as the author of The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set in the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as the short stories "To Build a Fire", "An Odyssey of the North", and "Love of Life". He also wrote of the South Pacific in such stories as "The Pearls of Parlay" and "The Heathen", and of the San Francisco Bay area in The Sea Wolf.
London was a passionate advocate of unionization, socialism, and the rights of workers and wrote several powerful works dealing with these topics such as his dystopian novel The Iron Heel, his non-fiction exposé The People of the Abyss, and The War of the Classes.
Jack London's mother, Flora Wellman, was the fifth and youngest child of Pennsylvania Canal builder Marshall Wellman and his first wife, Eleanor Garrett Jones. Marshall Wellman was descended from Thomas Wellman, an early Puritan settler in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Flora left Ohio and moved to the Pacific coast when her father remarried after her mother died. In San Francisco, Flora worked as a music teacher and spiritualist claiming to channel the spirit of an Indian chief.
Biographer Clarice Stasz and others believe that London's father was astrologer William Chaney. Flora Wellman was living with Chaney in San Francisco when she became pregnant. Whether Wellman and Chaney were legally married is unknown. Most San Francisco civil records were destroyed by the extensive fires that followed the 1906 earthquake; nobody knows what name appeared on his birth certificate. Stasz notes that in his memoirs, Chaney refers to London's mother Flora Wellman as having been his "wife" and also cites an advertisement in which Flora called herself "Florence Wellman Chaney."
According to Flora Wellman's account, as recorded in the San Francisco Chronicle of June 4, 1875, Chaney demanded that she have an abortion. When she refused, he disclaimed responsibility for the child. In desperation, she shot herself. She was not seriously wounded, but she was temporarily deranged. After she gave birth, Flora turned the baby over to ex-slave Virginia Prentiss, who remained a major maternal figure throughout London's life. Late in 1876, Flora Wellman married John London, a partially disabled Civil War veteran, and brought her baby John, later known as Jack, to live with the newly married couple. The family moved around the San Francisco Bay Area before settling in Oakland, where London completed grade school.
In 1897, when he was 21 and a student at the University of California, Berkeley, London searched for and read the newspaper accounts of his mother's suicide attempt and the name of his biological father. He wrote to William Chaney, then living in Chicago. Chaney responded that he could not be London's father because he was impotent; he casually asserted that London's mother had relations with other men and averred that she had slandered him when she said he insisted on an abortion. He concluded that he was more to be pitied than London. London was devastated by his father's letter. In the months following, he quit school at Berkeley and went to the Klondike.
London was born near Third and Brannan Streets in San Francisco. The house burned down in the fire after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; the California Historical Society placed a plaque at the site in 1953. Although the family was working class, it was not as impoverished as London's later accounts claimed. London was essentially self-educated.
In 1885, London found and read Ouida's long Victorian novel Signa. He credited this as the seed of his literary success. In 1886, he went to the Oakland Public Library and found a sympathetic librarian, Ina Coolbrith, who encouraged his learning. (She later became California's first poet laureate and an important figure in the San Francisco literary community).
In 1889, London began working 12 to 18 hours a day at Hickmott's Cannery. Seeking a way out, he borrowed money from his black foster mother Virginia Prentiss, bought the sloop Razzle-Dazzle from an oyster pirate named French Frank, and became an oyster pirate. In his memoir, John Barleycorn, he claims to have stolen French Frank's mistress Mamie. After a few months, his sloop became damaged beyond repair. London became hired as a member of the California Fish Patrol.
In 1893, he signed on to the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland, bound for the coast of Japan. When he returned, the country was in the grip of the panic of '93 and Oakland was swept by labor unrest. After grueling jobs in a jute mill and a street-railway power plant, he joined Kelly's Army and began his career as a tramp. In 1894, he spent 30 days for vagrancy in the Erie County Penitentiary at Buffalo. In The Road, he wrote:
Man-handling was merely one of the very minor unprintable horrors of the Erie County Pen. I say 'unprintable'; and in justice I must also say undescribable. They were unthinkable to me until I saw them, and I was no spring chicken in the ways of the world and the awful abysses of human degradation. It would take a deep plummet to reach bottom in the Erie County Pen, and I do but skim lightly and facetiously the surface of things as I there saw them.
After many experiences as a hobo and a sailor, he returned to Oakland and attended Oakland High School. He contributed a number of articles to the high school's magazine, The Aegis. His first published work was "Typhoon off the Coast of Japan", an account of his sailing experiences.
As a schoolboy, London often studied at Heinold's First and Last Chance, a port-side bar in Oakland. At 17, he confessed to the bar's owner, John Heinold, his desire to attend University and pursue a career as a writer. Heinold lent London tuition money to attend college.
London desperately wanted to attend the University of California, Berkeley. In 1896, after a summer of intense studying to pass certification exams, he was admitted. Financial circumstances forced him to leave in 1897 and he never graduated. No evidence suggests that London wrote for student publications while studying at Berkeley.
While at Berkeley, London continued to study and spend time at Heinold's saloon where he was introduced to the sailors and adventurers who would influence his writing. In his autobiographical novel, John Barleycorn, London mentioned the pub's likeness seventeen times. Heinold's was the place where London met Alexander McLean, a captain known for his cruelty at sea, on whom the protagonist in London's novel The Sea-Wolf, Wolf Larsen, is based.
Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon is now unofficially named Jack London's Rendezvous in his honor.
Gold rush and first success
On July 12, 1897, London (age 21) and his sister's husband Captain Shepard sailed to join the Klondike Gold Rush. This was the setting for some of his first successful stories. London's time in the Klondike, however, was detrimental to his health. Like so many other men who were malnourished in the goldfields, London developed scurvy. His gums became swollen, leading to the loss of his four front teeth. A constant gnawing pain affected his hip and leg muscles, and his face was stricken with marks that always reminded him of the struggles he faced in the Klondike. Father William Judge, "The Saint of Dawson," had a facility in Dawson that provided shelter, food and any available medicine to London and others. His struggles there inspired London's short story, "To Build a Fire", which many critics assess as his best.
His landlords in Dawson were mining engineers Marshall Latham Bond and Louis Whitford Bond, educated at Yale and Stanford. The brothers' father, Judge Hiram Bond, was a wealthy mining investor. The Bonds, especially Hiram, were active Republicans. Marshall Bond's diary mentions friendly sparring with London on political issues as a camp pastime.
London left Oakland with a social conscience and socialist leanings; he returned to become an activist for socialism. He concluded that his only hope of escaping the work "trap" was to get an education and "sell his brains." He saw his writing as a business, his ticket out of poverty, and, he hoped, a means of beating the wealthy at their own game. On returning to California in 1898, London began working deliberately to get published, a struggle described in his novel, Martin Eden. His first published story was "To the Man On Trail", which has frequently been collected in anthologies. When The Overland Monthly offered him only five dollars for it—and was slow paying—London came close to abandoning his writing career. In his words, "literally and literarily I was saved" when The Black Cat accepted his story "A Thousand Deaths," and paid him $40—the "first money I ever received for a story."
London began his writing career just as new printing technologies enabled lower-cost production of magazines. This resulted in a boom in popular magazines aimed at a wide public, and a strong market for short fiction. In 1900, he made $2,500 in writing, about $69,000 in today's currency. Among the works he sold to magazines was a short story known as either "Bâtard" or "Diable", in two editions of the same basic story. A cruel French Canadian brutalizes his dog. The dog retaliates and kills the man. London told some of his critics that man's actions are the main cause of the behavior of their animals, and he would show this in another short story which was to be The Call of the Wild.
While living at his rented villa on Lake Merritt in Oakland, London met poet George Sterling and in time they became best friends. In 1902, Sterling helped London find a home closer to his own in nearby Piedmont. In his letters London addressed Sterling as "Greek," owing to his aquiline nose and classical profile, and signed them as "Wolf." London was later to depict Sterling as Russ Brissenden in his autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1910) and as Mark Hall in The Valley of the Moon (1913).
In later life London indulged his wide-ranging interests by accumulating a personal library of 15,000 volumes. He referred to his books as "the tools of my trade."
First marriage (1900–1904)
London married Elizabeth "Bessie" Maddern on April 7, 1900, the same day The Son of the Wolf was edited. Bess had been part of his circle of friends for a number of years. She was related to stage actresses Minnie Maddern Fiske and Emily Stevens. Stasz says, "Both acknowledged publicly that they were not marrying out of love, but from friendship and a belief that they would produce sturdy children.", Kingman says, "they were comfortable together... Jack had made it clear to Bessie that he did not love her, but that he liked her enough to make a successful marriage."
During the marriage, London continued his friendship with Anna Strunsky, co-authoring The Kempton-Wace Letters, an epistolary novel contrasting two philosophies of love. Anna, writing "Dane Kempton's" letters, arguing for a romantic view of marriage, while London, writing "Herbert Wace's" letters, argued for a scientific view, based on Darwinism and eugenics. In the novel, his fictional character contrasted two women he had known.
London's pet name for Bess was "Mother-Girl" and Bess's for London was "Daddy-Boy". Their first child, Joan, was born on January 15, 1901, and their second, Bessie (later called Becky), on October 20, 1902. Both children were born in Piedmont, California. Here London wrote one of his most celebrated works, The Call of the Wild.
While London had pride in his children, the marriage was under strain. Kingman says that by 1903, they were close to separation as they were "extremely incompatible." Nevertheless, "Jack was still so kind and gentle with Bessie that when Cloudsley Johns was a house guest in February 1903 he didn't suspect a breakup of their marriage."
London reportedly complained to friends Joseph Noel and George Sterling:
[Bessie] is devoted to purity. When I tell her morality is only evidence of low blood pressure, she hates me. She'd sell me and the children out for her damned purity. It's terrible. Every time I come back after being away from home for a night she won't let me be in the same room with her if she can help it.
On July 24, 1903, London told Bessie he was leaving and moved out. During 1904, London and Bess negotiated the terms of a divorce, and the decree was granted on November 11, 1904.
On August 18, 1904, London went with his close friend, the poet George Sterling, to "Summer High Jinks" at the Bohemian Grove. London was elected to honorary membership in the Bohemian Club and took part in many activities. Other noted members of the Bohemian Club during this time included Ambrose Bierce, Allan Dunn, John Muir, Gelett Burgess, and Frank Norris.
Beginning in December 1914, London worked on The Acorn Planter, A California Forest Play, to be performed as one of the annual Grove Plays, but it was never selected—it was described as too difficult to set to music. London published The Acorn Planter in 1916.
After divorcing Maddern, London married Charmian Kittredge in 1905. London was introduced to Kittredge by his MacMillan publisher, George Platt Brett, Sr., while Kittredge served as Brett's secretary. Biographer Russ Kingman called Charmian "Jack's soul-mate, always at his side, and a perfect match." Their time together included numerous trips, including a 1907 cruise on the yacht Snark to Hawaii and Australia. Many of London's stories are based on his visits to Hawaii, the last one for 10 months beginning in December 1915.
The couple also visited Goldfield, Nevada, in 1907, where they were guests of the Bond brothers, London's Dawson City landlords. The Bond brothers were working in Nevada as mining engineers.
London had contrasted the concepts of the "Mother Woman" and the "Mate Woman" in The Kempton-Wace Letters. His pet name for Bess had been "mother-girl;" his pet name for Charmian was "mate-woman." Charmian's aunt and foster mother, a disciple of Victoria Woodhull, had raised her without prudishness. Every biographer alludes to Charmian's uninhibited sexuality.
Joseph Noel calls the events from 1903 to 1905 "a domestic drama that would have intrigued the pen of an Ibsen.... London's had comedy relief in it and a sort of easy-going romance." In broad outline, London was restless in his marriage; sought extramarital sexual affairs; and found, in Charmian Kittredge, not only a sexually active and adventurous partner, but his future life-companion. They attempted to have children. One child died at birth, and another pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.
Beauty Ranch (1905–1916)
In 1905, London purchased a 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) ranch in Glen Ellen, Sonoma County, California, on the eastern slope of Sonoma Mountain, for $26,450. He wrote that "Next to my wife, the ranch is the dearest thing in the world to me." He desperately wanted the ranch to become a successful business enterprise. Writing, always a commercial enterprise with London, now became even more a means to an end: "I write for no other purpose than to add to the beauty that now belongs to me. I write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate." After 1910, his literary works were mostly potboilers, written out of the need to provide operating income for the ranch.
Stasz writes that London "had taken fully to heart the vision, expressed in his agrarian fiction, of the land as the closest earthly version of Eden ... he educated himself through the study of agricultural manuals and scientific tomes. He conceived of a system of ranching that today would be praised for its ecological wisdom." He was proud to own the first concrete silo in California, a circular piggery that he designed. He hoped to adapt the wisdom of Asian sustainable agriculture to the United States. He hired both Italian and Chinese stonemasons, whose distinctly different styles are obvious.
The ranch was an economic failure. Sympathetic observers such as Stasz treat his projects as potentially feasible, and ascribe their failure to bad luck or to being ahead of their time. Unsympathetic historians such as Kevin Starr suggest that he was a bad manager, distracted by other concerns and impaired by his alcoholism. Starr notes that London was absent from his ranch about six months a year between 1910 and 1916, and says, "He liked the show of managerial power, but not grinding attention to detail .... London's workers laughed at his efforts to play big-time rancher [and considered] the operation a rich man's hobby."
London spent $80,000 ($2,040,000 in current value) to build a 15,000-square-foot (1,400 m2) stone mansion ("Wolf House") on the property. Just as the mansion was nearing completion, two weeks before the Londons planned to move in, it was destroyed by fire.
London's last visit to Hawaii, beginning in December 1915, lasted eight months. He met with Duke Kahanamoku, Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalaniana'ole, Queen Lili‘uokalani and many others, before returning to his ranch in July 1916. He was suffering from kidney failure, but he continued to work.
Many older sources describe London's death as a suicide, and some still do. This conjecture appears to be a rumor, or speculation based on incidents in his fiction writings. His death certificate gives the cause as uremia, following acute renal colic, a type of pain often described as "the worst pain...ever experienced", commonly caused by kidney stones. Uremia is also known as uremic poisoning.
London died November 22, 1916, in a sleeping porch in a cottage on his ranch. He was in extreme pain and taking morphine, and it is possible that a morphine overdose, accidental or deliberate, may have contributed to his death. The biographer Stasz writes, "Following London's death, for a number of reasons, a biographical myth developed in which he has been portrayed as an alcoholic womanizer who committed suicide. Recent scholarship based upon firsthand documents challenges this caricature."
London's fiction featured several suicides. In his autobiographical memoir John Barleycorn, he claims, as a youth, to have drunkenly stumbled overboard into the San Francisco Bay, "some maundering fancy of going out with the tide suddenly obsessed me". He said he drifted and nearly succeeded in drowning before sobering up and being rescued by fishermen. In the dénouement of The Little Lady of the Big House, the heroine, confronted by the pain of a mortal gunshot wound, undergoes a physician-assisted suicide by morphine. Also, in "Martin Eden", the principal protagonist, who shares certain characteristics with London himself, drowns himself.
London had been a robust man but had suffered several serious illnesses, including scurvy in the Klondike. At the time of his death, he suffered from dysentery and uremia and late stage alcoholism. During travels on the Snark, he and Charmian may have picked up unspecified tropical infections. Most biographers, including Russ Kingman, now agree he died of uremia aggravated by an accidental morphine overdose.
London's ashes were buried, together with those of his second wife Charmian (who died in 1955), in Jack London State Historic Park, in Glen Ellen, California. The simple grave is marked by only a mossy boulder.
Accusations of plagiarism
London was vulnerable to accusations of plagiarism not only because he was such a conspicuous, prolific, and successful writer, but also because of his methods of working. He wrote in a letter to Elwyn Hoffman, "expression, you see—with me—is far easier than invention." He purchased plots and novels from the young Sinclair Lewis and used incidents from newspaper clippings as writing material.
In July 1901, two pieces of fiction appeared within the same month: London's "Moon-Face", in the San Francisco Argonaut, and Frank Norris's "The Passing of Cock-eye Blacklock," in Century. Newspapers showed the similarities between the stories, which London said were "quite different in manner of treatment, [but] patently the same in foundation and motive." London explained both writers based their stories on the same newspaper account. A year later, it was discovered that Charles Forrest McLean had published a fictional story also based on the same incident.
In 1906, the New York World published "deadly parallel" columns showing eighteen passages from London's short story "Love of Life" side by side with similar passages from a nonfiction article by Augustus Biddle and J. K Macdonald, titled "Lost in the Land of the Midnight Sun."  London noted the World did not accuse him of "plagiarism," but only of "identity of time and situation," to which he defiantly "pled guilty."
The most serious charge of plagiarism was based on London's "The Bishop's Vision", Chapter 7 of his The Iron Heel. The chapter is nearly identical to an ironic essay that Frank Harris published in 1901, titled "The Bishop of London and Public Morality." Harris was incensed and suggested he should receive 1/60th of the royalties from The Iron Heel, the disputed material constituting about that fraction of the whole novel. London insisted he had clipped a reprint of the article, which had appeared in an American newspaper, and believed it to be a genuine speech delivered by the Bishop of London.
London wrote from a socialist viewpoint, which is evident in his novel The Iron Heel. Neither a theorist nor an intellectual socialist, London's socialism grew out of his life experience. As London explained in his essay, "How I Became a Socialist", his views were influenced by his experience with people at the bottom of the social pit. His optimism and individualism faded, and he vowed never to do more hard physical work than necessary. He wrote that his individualism was hammered out of him, and he was politically reborn. He often closed his letters "Yours for the Revolution."
London joined the Socialist Labor Party in April 1896. In the same year, the San Francisco Chronicle published a story about the twenty-year-old London giving nightly speeches in Oakland's City Hall Park, an activity he was arrested for a year later. In 1901, he left the Socialist Labor Party and joined the new Socialist Party of America. He ran unsuccessfully as the high-profile Socialist nominee for mayor of Oakland in 1901 (receiving 245 votes) and 1905 (improving to 981 votes), toured the country lecturing on socialism in 1906, and published two collections of essays about socialism: The War of the Classes (1905) and Revolution, and other Essays (1906).
Stasz notes that "London regarded the Wobblies as a welcome addition to the Socialist cause, although he never joined them in going so far as to recommend sabotage." Stasz mentions a personal meeting between London and Big Bill Haywood in 1912.
In his late (1913) book The Cruise of the Snark, London writes, about appeals to him for membership of the Snark's crew from office workers and other "toilers" who longed for escape from the cities, and of being cheated by workmen.
In his Glen Ellen ranch years, London felt some ambivalence toward socialism and complained about the "inefficient Italian labourers" in his employ. In 1916, he resigned from the Glen Ellen chapter of the Socialist Party, but stated emphatically he did so "because of its lack of fire and fight, and its loss of emphasis on the class struggle." In an unflattering portrait of London's ranch days, California cultural historian Kevin Starr  refers to this period as "post-socialist" and says "... by 1911 ... London was more bored by the class struggle than he cared to admit." Starr maintains London's socialism
always had a streak of elitism in it, and a good deal of pose. He liked to play working class intellectual when it suited his purpose. Invited to a prominent Piedmont house, he featured a flannel shirt, but, as someone there remarked, London's badge of solidarity with the working class "looked as if it had been specially laundered for the occasion. [Mark Twain said] "It would serve this man London right to have the working class get control of things. He would have to call out the militia to collect his royalties."
London shared common Californian concerns about Asian immigration and "the yellow peril", which he used as the title of a 1904 essay. This theme was also the subject of a story he wrote in 1910 called "The Unparalleled Invasion". Presented as a historical essay narrating events between 1976 and 1987, the story describes a China with an ever-increasing population taking over and colonizing its neighbors, with the intention of taking over the entire Earth. The western nations respond with biological warfare and bombard China with dozens of the most infectious diseases.
Many of London's short stories are notable for their empathetic portrayal of Mexican ("The Mexican"), Asian ("The Chinago"), and Hawaiian ("Koolau the Leper") characters. London's war correspondence from the Russo-Japanese War, as well as his unfinished novel Cherry, show he admired much about Japanese customs and capabilities, which has lead to big popularity of London (considered a Japanophile) among the Japanese, who consider themselve rather positively portrayed by him.
In London's 1902 novel Daughter of the Snows, the character Frona Welse has a speech about Teutonic virtues in contrast to the characteristics of other "races". The scholar Andrew Furer, in a long essay exploring the complexity of London's views, says there is no doubt that Frona Welse is acting as a mouthpiece for London in this passage.
London's 1904 essay, "The Yellow Peril", criticizes Asians. He admits, "it must be taken into consideration that the above postulate is itself a product of Western race-egotism, urged by our belief in our own righteousness and fostered by a faith in ourselves which may be as erroneous as are most fond race fancies."
In "Koolau the Leper", London describes Koolau, who is a Hawaiian leper—and thus a very different sort of "superman" than Martin Eden—and who fights off an entire cavalry troop to elude capture, as "indomitable spiritually—a ... magnificent rebel". This character is based on Hawaiian leper Kaluaikoolau who revolted and resisted capture from forces of the Provisional Government of Hawaii in the Kalalau Valley in 1893.
An amateur boxer and avid boxing fan, London reported on the 1910 Johnson-Jeffries fight, in which the black boxer Jack Johnson vanquished Jim Jeffries, the "Great White Hope". In 1908, according to Furer, London praised Johnson highly, contrasting the black boxer's coolness and intellectual style, with the apelike appearance and fighting style of his white opponent, Tommy Burns: "what . . . [won] on Saturday was bigness, coolness, quickness, cleverness, and vast physical superiority... Because a white man wishes a white man to win, this should not prevent him from giving absolute credit to the best man, even when that best man was black. All hail to Johnson." Johnson was "superb. He was impregnable . . . as inaccessible as Mont Blanc."
Those who defend London against charges of racism cite the letter he wrote to the Japanese-American Commercial Weekly in 1913:
In reply to yours of August 16, 1913. First of all, I should say by stopping the stupid newspaper from always fomenting race prejudice. This of course, being impossible, I would say, next, by educating the people of Japan so that they will be too intelligently tolerant to respond to any call to race prejudice. And, finally, by realizing, in industry and government, of socialism—which last word is merely a word that stands for the actual application of in the affairs of men of the theory of the Brotherhood of Man.
In the meantime the nations and races are only unruly boys who have not yet grown to the stature of men. So we must expect them to do unruly and boisterous things at times. And, just as boys grow up, so the races of mankind will grow up and laugh when they look back upon their childish quarrels.
In Yukon in 1996, after the City of Whitehorse renamed two streets to honor London and Robert W. Service, protests over London's allaged racism forced the city to change the name of "Jack London Boulevard" back to "Two-mile Hill".
Western writer and historian Dale L. Walker writes:
London's true métier was the short story ... London's true genius lay in the short form, 7,500 words and under, where the flood of images in his teeming brain and the innate power of his narrative gift were at once constrained and freed. His stories that run longer than the magic 7,500 generally—but certainly not always—could have benefited from self-editing.
London's "strength of utterance" is at its height in his stories, and they are painstakingly well-constructed. "To Build a Fire" is the best known of all his stories. Set in the harsh Klondike, it recounts the haphazard trek of a new arrival who has ignored an old-timer's warning about the risks of traveling alone. Falling through the ice into a creek in seventy-five-below weather, the unnamed man is keenly aware that survival depends on his untested skills at quickly building a fire to dry his clothes and warm his extremities. After publishing a tame version of this story—with a sunny outcome—in The Youth's Companion in 1902, London offered a second, more severe take on the man's predicament in The Century Magazine in 1908. Reading both provides an illustration of London's growth and maturation as a writer. As Labor (1994) observes: "To compare the two versions is itself an instructive lesson in what distinguished a great work of literary art from a good children's story."[A]
Other stories from the Klondike period include: "All Gold Canyon", about a battle between a gold prospector and a claim jumper; "The Law of Life", about an aging American Indian man abandoned by his tribe and left to die; "Love of Life", about a trek by a prospector across the Canadian tundra; "To the Man on Trail," which tells the story of a prospector fleeing the Mounted Police in a sled race, and raises the question of the contrast between written law and morality; and "An Odyssey of the North," which raises questions of conditional morality, and paints a sympathetic portrait of a man of mixed White and Aleut ancestry.
London was a boxing fan and an avid amateur boxer. "A Piece of Steak" is a tale about a match between older and younger boxers. It contrasts the differing experiences of youth and age but also raises the social question of the treatment of aging workers. "The Mexican" combines boxing with a social theme, as a young Mexican endures an unfair fight and ethnic prejudice in order to earn money with which to aid the revolution.
Numerous stories of London would today be classified as science fiction. "The Unparalleled Invasion" describes germ warfare against China; "Goliah" revolves around an irresistible energy weapon; "The Shadow and the Flash" is a tale about two brothers who take different routes to achieving invisibility; "A Relic of the Pliocene" is a tall tale about an encounter of a modern-day man with a mammoth. "The Red One" is a late story from a period when London was intrigued by the theories of the psychiatrist and writer Jung. It tells of an island tribe held in thrall by an extraterrestrial object. His dystopian novel, The Iron Heel, meets the contemporary definition of soft science fiction.
Some nineteen original collections of short stories were published during London's brief life or shortly after his death. There have been numerous posthumous anthologies drawn from this pool of nineteen books. Many of these collections have been themed around the locales of the Klondike and the Pacific. A collection of Jack London's San Francisco Stories was published in October 2010 by Sydney Samizdat Press.
Critic Maxwell Geismar called The Call of the Wild "a beautiful prose poem"; editor Franklin Walker said that it "belongs on a shelf with Walden and Huckleberry Finn"; and novelist E.L. Doctorow called it "a mordant parable ... his masterpiece."
The historian Dale L. Walker commented:
Jack London was an uncomfortable novelist, that form too long for his natural impatience and the quickness of his mind. His novels, even the best of them, are hugely flawed.
Critics have said his novels are episodic and resemble a linked series of short stories. Walker writes:
The Star Rover, that magnificent experiment, is actually a series of short stories connected by a unifying device ... Smoke Bellew is a series of stories bound together in a novel-like form by their reappearing protagonist, Kit Bellew; and John Barleycorn ... is a synoptic series of short episodes.
Ambrose Bierce said of The Sea-Wolf that "the great thing—and it is among the greatest of things—is that tremendous creation, Wolf Larsen ... the hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to do in one lifetime." However, he noted, "The love element, with its absurd suppressions, and impossible proprieties, is awful."
Jack London Credo
London's literary executor, Irving Shepard, quoted a Jack London Credo in an introduction to a 1956 collection of London stories:
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
The biographer Stasz notes that the passage "has many marks of London's style" but the only line that could be safely attributed to London was the first. The words Shepard quoted were from a story in the San Francisco Bulletin, December 2, 1916 by journalist Ernest J. Hopkins, who visited the ranch just weeks before London's death. Stasz notes "Even more so than today journalists' quotes were unreliable or even sheer inventions" and says no direct source in London's writings has been found. However, at least one line, according to Stasz, is authentic, being referenced by London, and written in his own hand, in the autograph book of Australian suffragette Vida Goldstein:
Dear Miss Goldstein:–
Seven years ago I wrote you that I'd rather be ashes than dust. I still subscribe to that sentiment.
Jan. 13, 1909
Furthermore, in his short story "By The Turtles of Tasman", a character, defending her ne'er-do-well grasshopperish father to her antlike uncle, says: "... my father has been a king. He has lived .... Have you lived merely to live? Are you afraid to die? I'd rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet. When you are dust, my father will be ashes."
A short diatribe on "The Scab" is often quoted within the U.S. labor movement and frequently attributed to London. It opens:
After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab. A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles. When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and Angels weep in Heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out...."
This passage as given above was the subject of a 1974 Supreme Court case, in which Justice Thurgood Marshall referred to it as "a well-known piece of trade union literature, generally attributed to author Jack London". A union newsletter had published a "list of scabs," which was granted to be factual and therefore not libelous, but then went on to quote the passage as the "definition of a scab". The case turned on the question of whether the "definition" was defamatory. The court ruled that "Jack London's... 'definition of a scab' is merely rhetorical hyperbole, a lusty and imaginative expression of the contempt felt by union members towards those who refuse to join", and as such was not libelous and was protected under the First Amendment.
Despite being frequently attributed to London, the passage does not appear at all in the extensive collection of his writings at Sonoma State University's website. However, in his book The War of the Classes he published a 1903 speech entitled "The Scab", which gave a much more balanced view of the topic:
To strike at a man's food and shelter is to strike at his life; and in a society organized on a tooth-and-nail basis, such an act, performed though it may be under the guise of generosity, is none the less menacing and terrible. It is for this reason that a laborer is so fiercely hostile to another laborer who offers to work for less pay or longer hours. To hold his place, (which is to live), he must offset this offer by another equally liberal, which is equivalent to giving away somewhat from the food and shelter he enjoys.
When a striker kills with a brick the man who has taken his place, he has no sense of wrong-doing. In the deepest holds of his being, though he does not reason the impulse, he has an ethical sanction. He feels dimly that he has justification, just as the home-defending Boer felt, though more sharply, with each bullet he fired at the invading English. Behind every brick thrown by a striker is the selfish will "to live" of himself, and the slightly altruistic will "to live" of his family. The family group came into the world before the State group, and society, being still on the primitive basis of tooth and nail, the will "to live" of the State is not so compelling to the striker as is the will "to live" of his family and himself.
The laborer who gives more time or strength or skill for the same wage than another, or equal time or strength or skill for a less wage, is a scab. The generousness on his part is hurtful to his fellow-laborers, for it compels them to an equal generousness which is not to their liking, and which gives them less of food and shelter. But a word may be said for the scab. Just as his act makes his rivals compulsorily generous, so do they, by fortune of birth and training, make compulsory his act of generousness.
Nobody desires to scab, to give most for least. The ambition of every individual is quite the opposite, to give least for most; and, as a result, living in a tooth-and-nail society, battle royal is waged by the ambitious individuals. But in its most salient aspect, that of the struggle over the division of the joint product, it is no longer a battle between individuals, but between groups of individuals. Capital and labor apply themselves to raw material, make something useful out of it, add to its value, and then proceed to quarrel over the division of the added value. Neither cares to give most for least. Each is intent on giving less than the other and on receiving more.
Might Is Right
Anton LaVey's Church of Satan claims that "Ragnar Redbeard", pseudonymous author of the 1896 book Might Is Right, was London. No London biographers mention any such possibility. Rodger Jacobs published an essay ridiculing this theory, arguing that in 1896 London was unfamiliar with philosophers heavily cited by Redbeard, such as Nietzsche, and had not even begun to develop his mature literary style.
Source unless otherwise specified: Williams
Short story collections
Non-fiction and essays
Legacy and honors
- Mount London, also known as Boundary Peak 100, on the Alaska-British Columbia boundary, in the Boundary Ranges of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia, is named for him.
- Jack London Square on the waterfront of Oakland, California was named for him.
- He was honored by the United States Postal Service with a 25¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.
- Jack London Lake (Russian: Озеро Джека Лондона), a mountain lake located in the upper reaches of the Kolyma River in Yagodninsky district of Magadan Oblast.
- Reesman 2009, p. 23.
- "London, Jack". Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- Dictionary of American Biography Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928–1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2006.
- London 1939, p. 12.
- New York Times November 23, 1916.
- (1910) "Specialty of Short-story Writing," The Writer, XXII, January–December 1910, p. 9: "There are eight American writers who can get $1000 for a short story—Robert W. Chambers, Richard Harding Davis, Jack London, O. Henry, Booth Tarkington, John Fox, Jr., Owen Wister, and Mrs. Burnett." $1,000 in 1910 dollars is roughly equivalent to $25,000 today
- Wellman, Joshua Wyman Descendants of Thomas Wellman (1918) Arthur Holbrook Wellman, Boston p. 227
- "The Book of Jack London". The World of Jack London. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- Stasz 2001, p. 14: "What supports Flora's naming Chaney as the father of her son are, first, the indisputable fact of their cohabiting at the time of his conception;, and second, the absence of any suggestion on the part of her associates that another man could have been responsible... [but] unless DNA evidence is introduced, whether or not William Chaney was the biological father of Jack London cannot be decided.... Chaney would, however, be considered by her son and his children as their ancestor."
- Kershaw 1999, pp. 53–54.
- London, Jack (1917) "Eight Factors of Literary Success", in Labor (1994), p. 512. "In answer to your question as to the greatest factors of my literary success, I will state that I consider them to be: Vast good luck. Good health; good brain; good mental and muscular correlation. Poverty. Reading Ouida's Signa at eight years of age. The influence of Herbert Spencer's Philosophy of Style. Because I got started twenty years before the fellows who are trying to start today."
- John Barleycorn , by Jack London at Project Gutenberg Chapters VII, VIII describe his stealing of Mamie, the "Queen of the Oyster Pirates": "The Queen asked me to row her ashore in my skiff...Nor did I understand Spider's grinning side-remark to me: "Gee! There's nothin' slow about YOU." How could it possibly enter my boy's head that a grizzled man of fifty should be jealous of me?" "And how was I to guess that the story of how the Queen had thrown him down on his own boat, the moment I hove in sight, was already the gleeful gossip of the water-front?
- London 1939, p. 41.
- Kingman 1979, p. 37: "It was said on the waterfront that Jack had taken on a mistress... Evidently Jack believed the myth himself at times... Jack met Mamie aboard the Razzle-Dazzle when he first approached French Frank about its purchase. Mamie was aboard on a visit with her sister Tess and her chaperone, Miss Hadley. It hardly seems likely that someone who required a chaperone on Saturday would move aboard as mistress on Monday."
- Kingman 1979, p. 67.
- MacGillivray, Don (April 2009). Captain Alex MacLean. University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-1471-3. Retrieved 2011-10-06.
- MacGillivray, Don (2008-03-19). Captain Alex MacLean (PDF). ISBN 978-0-7748-1471-3. Retrieved 2011-10-06.
- "Best Dog Story Ever Written: Call of the Wild", excerpted from Kingman 1979
- Hamilton (1986) (as cited by other sources)
- Stasz 2001, p. 61: "Both acknowledged... that they were not marrying out of love"
- Kingman 1979, p. 98.
- Stasz 2001, p. 66: "Mommy Girl and Daddy Boy"
- Kingman 1979, p. 121.
- Noel 1940, p. 150, "She's devoted to purity..."
- Stasz 2001, p. 80 ("devoted to purity... code words...")
- Kingman 1979, p. 139.
- London & Taylor 1987, p. 394.
- Wichlan 2007, p. 131.
- "The Sailing of the Snark," by Allan Dunn, Sunset, May 1907.
- Day 1996, pp. 113–119.
- London 2003, p. 59: copy of "John Barleycorn" inscribed "Dear Mate-Woman: You know. You have helped me bury the Long Sickness and the White Logic." Numerous other examples in same source.
- Kingman 1979, p. 124.
- Stasz 1999, p. 112.
- Kershaw 1999, p. 133.
- Noel 1940, p. 146.
- Joseph Theroux. "They Came to Write in Hawai'i". Spirit of Aloha (Aloha Airlines) March/April 2007. "He said, "Life's not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes playing a poor hand well." ...His last magazine piece was titled "My Hawaiian Aloha"* [and] his final, unfinished novel, Eyes of Asia, was set in Hawai'i." (Jack London. "My Hawaiian Aloha". *From Stories of Hawai'i, Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, 1916. Reprinted with permission in Spirit of Aloha, November/December 2006.)
- Columbia Encyclopedia "Jack London", "Beset in his later years by alcoholism and financial difficulties, London committed suicide at the age of 40."
- The Jack London Online Collection: Jack London's death certificate.
- Mayo Clinic (2008). "Kidney Stone Channel". U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved 2008-04-23.
- The Jack London Online Collection: Biography.
- "Did Jack London Commit Suicide?", The World of Jack London
- "The Literary Zoo," Life, Jan–Jun 1907, v. 49, p. 130
- Kingman 1979, p. 118.
- Letter to "The Bookman," April 10, 1906, quoted in full in Jack London, Dale L. Walker, Jeanne Campbell Reesman (2000). No mentor but myself: Jack London on writing and writers. Stanford University Press. 978-0804736350. p. 97: "The World, however, did not charge me with plagiarism. It charged me with identity of time and situation. Certainly I plead guilty, and I am glad that the World was intelligent enough not to charge me with identity of language."
- Jack London, Dale L. Walker, Jeanne Campbell Reesman (2000). No mentor but myself: Jack London on writing and writers. Stanford University Press. 978-0804736350. p. 121: "The controversy with Frank Harris began in the Vanity Fair issue of April 14, 1909, in an article by Harris entitled "How Mr. Jack London Writes a Novel." Using parallel columns, Harris demonstrated that a portion of his article, "The Bishop of London and Public Morality," which appeared in a British periodical, The Candid Friend, on May 25, 1901, had been used almost word-for-word in his 1908 novel, The Iron Heel."
- See Labor (1994) p. 546 for one example, a letter from London to William E. Walling dated November 30, 1909.
- Stasz 2001, p. 100.
- Stasz 2001, p. 156.
- Kershaw 1999, p. 245.
- Starr, Kevin (1973). Americans and the California Dream. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-501-644-0. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
- The Jack London Online Collection: The Yellow Peril.
- The Jack London Online Collection: The Unparalleled Invasion.
- JACK LONDON'S WAR, Dale L. Walker, The World of Jack London (WWW.JACKLONDONS.NET). «According to London's reportage, the Russians were "sluggish" in battle, while "The Japanese understand the utility of things. Reserves they consider should be used not only to strengthen the line...but in the moment of victory to clinch victory hard and fast...Verily, nothing short of a miracle can wreck a plan they have once started and put into execution."»
- [Jack London's Racial Lives: A Critical Biography], Jeanne Campbell Reesman, University of Georgia Press, 2009, pp. 323–324
- [Jack London's new woman: a little lady with a big stick. (The Genders of Naturalism)], Andrew J. Furer, HighBeam Research, Studies in American Fiction, September 22, 1994
- JACK LONDON ON THE FIGHT, The Argus, Monday 28 December 1908
- Labor, Earle, Robert C. Leitz, III, and I. Milo Shepard: The Letters of Jack London: Volume Three: 1913–1916 Stanford University Press 1988. p. 1219, Letter to Japanese-American Commercial Weekly, August 25, 1913: "the races of mankind will grow up and laugh [at] their childish quarrels..."
- Dale L. Walker, "Jack London: The Stories", The World of Jack London
- Jack London: San Francisco Stories (Edited by Matthew Asprey; Preface by Rodger Jacobs)
- These are the five novels selected by editor Donald Pizer for inclusion in the Library of America series.
- Kershaw 1999, p. 109.
- Letters of Ambrose Bierce, ed. S. T. Joshi, Tryambak Sunand Joshi, David E. Schultz, Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003
- Orwell: the Authorized Biography by Michael Shelden, HarperCollins ISBN 978-0-06-092161-3
- The Jack London Online Collection: Credo.
- Thurgood Marshall (1974-06-25). "Letter Carriers v. Austin, 418 U.S. 264 (1974)". Retrieved 2006-05-23.
- Callan, Claude, 1913, "Cracks at the Crowd", Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 30, 1913, p. 6: "Saith the Rule Review: 'After God had finished making the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, He had some awful substance left, with which he made the knocker.' Were it not for being irreverent, we would suggest that He was hard up for something to do when He made any of those pests you call his handiwork."
- "The Food for Your Think Tank", The Macon Daily Telegraph, August 23, 1914, p. 3
- " Madame Gain is Found Guilty. Jury Decides Woman Conducted House of Ill Fame at the Clifton Hotel," The Duluth News Tribune, February 5, 1914, p. 12.
- "T. W. H.", (1914), "Review of the Masonic 'Country' Press: The Eastern Star" The New Age Magazine: A Monthly Publication Devoted to Freemasonry and Its Relation to Present Day Problems, published by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States; June, 1917, p. 283:"SCANDAL MONGER: After God had finished making the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, He had some awful substance left, with which He made a scandal monger. A scandal monger is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-sogged brain and a combination backbone made of jelly and glue. Where other men have their hearts he carries a tumor of decayed principles. When the scandal monger comes down the street honest men turn their backs, the angels weep tears in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out. —Anon"
- Jacobs 1999.
- The Jack London Online Collection: Writings.
- "How I Became a Socialist. The Comrade: An illustrated socialist monthly. Volume II, No. 6, March, 1903: Jack London: Books". Amazon.com. 2009-09-09. Retrieved 2011-08-26.
- "London, Mount". BC Geographical Names. http://apps.gov.bc.ca/pub/bcgnws/names/21180.html.
- Day, A. Grove (1996) . "Jack London and Hawaii". In Dye, Bob. Hawaiʻi Chronicles. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 113–119. ISBN 0-8248-1829-6.
- Kershaw, Alex (1999). Jack London. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-19904-X.
- Kingman, Russ (1979). A Pictorial Life of Jack London. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. (original); also "Published for Jack London Research Center by David Rejl, California" (same ISBN). ISBN 0-517-54093-2.
- London, Charmian (2003) . The Book of Jack London, Volume II. Kessinger. ISBN 0-7661-6188-9.
- London, Jack; Taylor, J. Golden; Western Literature Association (1987). A Literary history of the American West. Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press. ISBN 0-87565-021-X.
- London, Joan (1939). Jack London and His Times. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc. Library of Congress 39-33408.
- Lundberg, Murray. "The Life of Jack London as Reflected in his Works". Explore North. Archived from the original
|url=(help) on 2008-06-10.
- Noel, Joseph (1940). Footloose in Arcadia: A Personal Record of Jack London, George Sterling, Ambrose Bierce. New York: Carrick and Evans.
- Reesman, Jeanne Campbell (2009). Jack London's Racial Lives: A Critical Biography. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. ISBN 0-8203-2789-1.
- Stasz, Clarice (1999) . American Dreamers: Charmian and Jack London. toExcel (iUniverse, Lincoln, Nebraska). ISBN 0-595-00002-9.
- Stasz, Clarice (2001). Jack London's Women. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 1-55849-301-8.
- Wichlan, Daniel J. (2007). The Complete Poetry of Jack London. Waterford, CT: Little Red Tree Publishing. ISBN 0-9789446-2-3.
- "Jack London Dies Suddenly On Ranch". nytimes.com. 1916-11-23. Retrieved 2011-09-22. "Novelist is Found Unconscious from Uremia, and Expires after Eleven Hours. Wrote His Life of Toil—His Experience as Sailor Reflected In His Fiction—'Call of the Wild' Gave Him His Fame." 'The New York Times,' story datelined Santa Rosa, Cal., Nov. 22; appeared November 24, 1916, p. 13. States he died 'at 7:45 o'clock tonight,' and says he was 'born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876.'"
The Jack London Online Collection
- "Jack London's death certificate, from County Record's Office, Sonoma Co., Nov. 22, 1916.". The Jack London Online Collection. 1916-11-22. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- Stasz, Clarice (2001). "Jack [John Griffith] London". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- "Revolution and Other Essays: The Yellow Peril". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- "The Unparalleled Invasion". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- "Jack London's "Credo", Commentary by Clarice Stasz". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- Roy Tennant and Clarice Stasz. "Jack London's Writings". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- Jacobs, Rodger (July 1999). "Running with the Wolves: Jack London, the Cult of Masculinity, and "Might is Right"". Panik. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- Williams, James. "Jack London's Works by Date of Composition". The Jack London Online Collection. Retrieved 2011-09-30.
- Asprey, Matthew (ed.); Jacobs, Rodger (preface) (2010). Jack London: San Francisco Stories. Sydney: Sydney Samizdat Press. ISBN 1-4538-4050-8.
- Haley, James L. (2010). Wolf: The Lives of Jack London. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00478-4.
- Hamilton, David (1986). The Tools of My Trade: Annotated Books in Jack London's Library. University of Washington. ISBN 0-295-96157-0.
- Herron, Don (2004). The Barbaric Triumph: A Critical Anthology on the Writings of Robert E. Howard. Wildside Press. ISBN 0-8095-1566-0.
- Howard, Robert E. (1989). Robert E. Howard Selected Letters 1923–1930. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. ISBN 0-940884-26-7.
- Labor, Earle (ed.) (1994). The Portable Jack London. Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-14-017969-0.
- London, Jack; Anna Strunsky (2000) . The Kempton-Wace Letters. Czech Republic: Triality. ISBN 80-901876-8-4.
- Lord, Glenn (1976). The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert E. Howard. West Kingston, RI: Donald Grant.
- Pizer, Donald (ed.) (1982). Jack London : Novels and Stories. Library of America. ISBN 978-0-940450-05-9.
- Pizer, Donald (ed.) (1982). Jack London: Novels and Social Writing. Library of America. ISBN 978-0-940450-06-6.
- Raskin, Jonah (ed.) (2008). The Radical Jack London: Writings on War and Revolution. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-25546-1.
- Starr, Kevin (1973) Americans and the California Dream 1850–1915. Oxford University Press. 1986 reprint: ISBN 0-19-504233-6
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Jack London|
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|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Jack London at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Jack London in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Works by Jack London on Open Library at the Internet Archive
- The Jack London Online Collection Site featuring information about Jack London's life and work, and a collection of his writings.
- The World of Jack London Biographical information and writings
- Jack London State Historic Park
- The Huntingon Library's Jack London Archive
- Guide to the Jack London Papers at The Bancroft Library
- Jack London Collection at Sonoma State University Library
- Jack London Stories, scanned from original magazines, including the original artwork
- 5 short radio episodes from Jack London's writing at California Legacy Project
- Howser, Huell (December 10, 1994). "Jack London – California's Gold (502)". California's Gold. Chapman University Huell Howser Archive.
- Jack London at Find a Grave